The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals denied a German couple’s bid for asylum in the United States today, pushing their family one step closer to deportation.
Uwe and Hannelore Romeike moved to the United States in 2008 because Germany does not allow parents to homeschool their children. The couple, devout Christians, feared the state school system would undermine their children’s faith. The couple already faced $9,000 in fines for keeping their children home and knew the German government could take their children from them if they continued to keep them out of government-approved schools.
The Romeikes sought asylum in the United States, saying they would face persecution if they returned home. But a three-judge panel of the 6th Circuit ruled the German requirement that all children attend state-approved public or private schools did not amount to persecution.
“There is a difference between the persecution of a discrete group and the prosecution of those who violate a generally applicable law,” Judge Jeffrey Sutton wrote in the unanimous opinion. “As the Board of Immigration Appeals permissibly found, the German authorities have not singled out the Romeikes in particular or homeschoolers in general for persecution.”
An immigration judge initially approved the family’s application for asylum, but the Board of Immigration Appeals overturned his decision. The family has been living in Morristown, Tenn., while lawyers with the Homeschool Legal Defense Association (HSLDA) argued its case.
“We believe the 6th Circuit is wrong and we will appeal their decision,” said Michael Farris, the HSLDA’s founder and chairman. “America has room for this family and we will do everything we can to help them.”
The U.S. Supreme Court offers the family’s last hope for staying in Tennessee with their six children, one of whom was born in the United States. The couple is expecting their seventh child next month. Their lawyers will have to prove the punishment the family faces in Germany meets the U.S. definition of persecution, something the 6th Circuit said they failed to do.
Generally applicable laws can be written to target a specific group, which does amount to persecution, Sutton wrote. But Germany’s mandatory school attendance law is not applied selectively to homeschoolers or to Christians, the court found. German authorities punish parents who remove their children from school for nonreligious reasons, just as they punish parents of truants. The court also found that although the law dates back to Nazi rule, that does not automatically make it a source of persecution.
“The question is not whether Germany’s policy violates the American Constitution, whether it violates the parameters of an international treaty or whether German’s law is a good idea,” Sutton wrote. “It is whether the Romeikes have established the prerequisites of an asylum claim—a well-founded fear of persecution on account of a protected ground. … The Romeikes have not met this burden.”
Read WORLD’s profile of the Romeike family.